All too often, I hear, “well, if I don’t shoot him, my neighbor will,” and “you can’t eat the antlers,” from the same people complaining that they never see mature, big-antlered deer. There are several factors that go into whitetail herd management that I feel compelled to break down and explain. Disclaimer: I believe that a trophy is in the eye of the beholder, and if you are completely excited and happy about your harvest, that’s awesome.
First, I want to talk about your doe to buck ratio for private land hunters. Your doe to buck ratio needs to be on the slimmer side. Think of it this way, if your herd is overflowing with does, when the rut rolls around, the bucks aren’t going to have to go very far or work as hard to breed a doe. Therefore, you may have several missed opportunities, and may not see as much activity. You may also have does that don’t get bred. I like to compare getting your deer herd to a healthy ratio like getting your hair trimmed. When a woman wants to grow her hair out, she gets it trimmed. Yes, she cuts her hair when she wants it to grow longer. The ends of hair will split, causing it to break off and be unhealthy, ultimately halting hair growth. When you trim your hair, you cut off the unhealthy ends, making your hair healthy again and allowing it to grow---just like a deer herd. You have to “trim” your herd to make it healthy. On our family land, we utilize early season for doe management. Depending on our trail camera pictures over our food plots and travel corridors, we get an idea of the number of does we need to thin out to get our ratio where we want it. We strive to make our doe to buck ratio to be around 3:1 or 2:1 after we have done our early season thinning.
For those who say, “You can’t eat the antlers,” my suggestion is to shoot a doe. This is my 2016 doe harvest.
Food, water, and cover are essential when it comes to whitetails, and you will hold deer on your property if you have all three. When it comes to managing your land for holding your deer, you must educate yourself on what is good and not good to plant. Soil samples will give you a better idea as to what to plant and how much/what kind of fertilizer to use. Natural browse is a key component in a whitetail deer’s diet, so don’t focus solely on your food plots. Water is the most overlooked necessity. Just because you may have an abundance of food, doesn’t mean you will hold your deer: ponds, creeks, artificial water holding….anything will do. Typically, there is more food on a piece of property than water, so utilizing trail cameras over water sources may allow you to take more inventory of bucks. If there is a great amount of food, and a little amount of water on your property, you’re likely going to get pictures of deer at the water hole that you don’t have pictures of in your food plots. Lastly, cover is imperative to have if you want to hold your deer. If a deer doesn’t feel safe, it will become stressed out, which can lead to health issues. It can also urge a deer to move territories. Cover provides shelter and protection from predators, making the deer feel secure.
Browning Trail Cameras have helped us out tremendously when it comes to taking inventory of the bucks we have on our property.
Finally, let em’ go and let em’ grow. I can’t count how many times I have heard people complain about how they “never see ‘big’ deer,” or how they “will never be able to grow ‘big’ deer” because of the location they hunt at. I’m sorry, but that is so false. My family has taken a piece of property that MAYBE had two 3.5
year old bucks on it, and in the third year of properly managing the land and deer, we began to see significant results. The 2016-2017 hunting season was the sixth year we hunted on our property. At the beginning of the season, we had at least eight bucks that were 3.5 years and at least seven bucks that were 4.5 years and older on camera that we have passed on in their younger years or that have moved in since we began managing. Year by year we see results in these bucks. I will also add that we have one neighboring property, and the rest of our property is surrounded by the Ozark National Forest, which is public hunting land.
Trail camera pictures of a buck we called “No Tail” from ages 1.5 to 6.5. He was successfully harvested by my husband, Brady Bradley, in November 2016.
So while the chances of some of our bucks getting shot are high, it’s a risk we are willing to take to see these bucks blossom. For the excuse, “if I don’t shoot them, my neighbor will,” I would recommend speaking with your neighbor. Tell them your game plan, and how you would really like to see the number of mature bucks on your property increase, and in turn, it will benefit their chances of harvesting mature whitetails in the future.
Obviously there are more factors that go into management, but these are three areas that I feel are most important when it comes to getting your herd to full potential. Management takes patience; it takes time, hard work, and persistence. Letting a 120”, 3.5 year old buck walk is NOT easy. However, it’s necessary to accomplish your goal. If growing and harvesting mature bucks is a goal of yours, let this season be a starting point for your management practices.